May 14, 2009

Dio's Pops Stories #3: First Year - First Impressions, Gaining Friends, and The Mighty Rhythm Section

Note: Pops Stories are a series of blogs, depicting my life and times with the DLSU Pops Orchestra.

I began writing this third entry three weeks ago, on April 23, and finished it just today. I got a bit busy with my band and with the happenings here at home in Manila. Plus the fact that I have so many thoughts and stories about my Pops experiences, I admit getting quite lost, not knowing where to begin and what to say next, considering that I got nostalgic at times, reminiscing all the memories, big and small. Anyhow, I'll just continue writing about my Pops stories in detail.

The title of the blog entry says it. And yes, I'm not done yet with my freshman stories. More to come after this...

To fellow Concert Band/Pops peeps... Please correct me if I've posted any wrong information/detail. Thanks!


23 April - May 11

Dio's Pops Stories #3: First Year - First Impressions, Gaining Friends, and The Mighty Rhythm Section

1996... I remember feeling so happy after I learned that I was accepted as the DLSU Concert Band’s new drummer. After reading my name at the audition results posted outside the Band Room, the door opened and Band members greeted, congratulated and welcomed me. At first, it was overwhelming and a bit embarrassing because there were so many people during that time. But they were so warm, friendly and all smiles. Many told me that the Band Room is from now on my tambayan too. That afternoon was a great way to end a school day. Later that night, I got a call from the girl drummer, Ella Monserrate, who was the head of the rhythm section that year, telling me to attend the general assembly at the Band Room on Wednesday, University break.

When I entered the Band Room for the G.A., I was once again surprised because there were so many people. And it was really crowded this time! The office and the rehearsal area were packed with people, and it was like a party atmosphere. One of the first people who welcomed me was Nat Tan, the Band president that school year. From that moment on, he was like a big brother to me and most of my fellow new members. He’s one of the nicest kuyas we ever had in the Band. The G.A. served as a welcome for new members. There were plenty of rookies that year, because many senior members were graduating that year, or having their thesis, or filed a leave of absence. The energetic and outgoing Marc Yu, a vocalist, violin player and officer, was the host of the G.A. One by one, we new members were asked to stand up, introduce ourselves, and say an adjective that best describes us and it should match the first letter of our name. I can’t remember what adjective I said that time. There were so many new and old Band members; it was so hard remembering names. But it’s alright; it was just my first day.

I admit, during the first few weeks, I was quite lost. I missed rehearsals during Wednesday U. break and Saturday mornings. I even missed the Kapatiran, the infamous and much-anticipated annual initiation party of the Band. I wasn’t adjusted yet to college life during my first month in DLSU. I was quite reckless (pasaway) during those times. Later on, Nat and some of the officers and members reminded me about the ways and norms, and from then on I didn’t miss rehearsals. We had the Freshman Concert scheduled late July at the William Shaw Little Theater, which was then like an annual first term debut concert for new members. And so, I needed to be present on rehearsals and shows, for these were also crucial to our scholarship privileges.

My first few rehearsals were times when I began getting acquainted with fellow Band members. I remember back then, whenever the Band is rehearsing and in the middle of a piece, we cannot enter the rehearsal room coming from the office area. They used to be very strict with this. We have to wait for the Band to stop or finish before we can enter; or before we can stand up and walk around, when we’re inside the rehearsal room. I didn’t know the rule back then. One time, I entered the rehearsal room during the middle of a song; and this trombone player, an uptight-looking dude in loafers, slacks, polo shirt and glasses, and looked mature enough to be mistaken as faculty, halted me. When the music stopped, he gave me a short sermon about the rule, like a teacher scolding a student. I apologized, of course. That’s how I met Jose Cardenas.

There were plenty of interesting personalities in the Band, a lot whom I got to know better as time passed. There’s Mario Aguinaldo, a junior sax player and aspiring lawyer who was serious with rowing (Bandboys would joke with him, “Pare, lumalaki katawan natin a!”). There’s Sharon Lu, the first female sax player I’ve ever met; she looks charmingly pretty and petite, but watch out because she can become very mataray when needed. Colin Dimacali was the vice president back then, and he’s a really fast driver (a typical Bandboy trait). There’s Rheanne Valenzuela and Sannah Custodio, who are both violinists; they’re like my big sisters, and they’re always so nice to me. And there’s clarinet player Claire Chua, a fellow new member who joined the band in her third year; a Fil-Chinese who happened to be my neighbor, and I used to hitch a ride with her numerous times (thanks Claire!). Even Band alumni during those days were already spotted hanging out frequently at the Band Room. There’s the sly Wowie Cruz, a professor that time, who made the Band Room his faculty room. And there was fresh grad Gale Cera, a powerful trumpet player; a tough, big guy who often summoned me for playing too loud.

One thing I appreciated so much with the Band is the fact that I gained so many friends. And my new friends are diverse. Before, most of my friends were peers such as batchmates and those of similar age. But after joining the Band, I made friends who are a bit older than me and are like ates and kuyas to me. I also deeply appreciate the family atmosphere in the Band which Nat somehow introduced to us; and I feel that he did an excellent job of taking care of it. During lunch break at Saturday rehearsals, Sir Eli and most of the Bandmembers, about 90% of us, would eat together. And it was always a blast! We would arrive in herds, and somehow the diner attendants already knew who we were – “Ah, mga taga-Band; mga malalakas kumain!” We would often eat at Kaibigan (which was originally just outside Gokongwei Building; the best sisig in campus), Garahe (an ihaw-ihaw resto at the corner of Agno and Castro that served liempo and barbeque; the Band was credited for making this place popular), and Henry’s (a now-defunct resto just across North Gate; we loved their beef stew), or even take the long walk towards McDo or the University Mall. Just like a family, a band that eats together stays together.

Naturally, being a rhythm section member, I would often hang out with my rhythm section peers and contemporaries. And I remember the 1996-97 rhythm section being an outstanding line-up. Just thinking about that batch, it was somehow an all-star cast by Band/Pops standards. It was a group that humbled and challenged me as a musician, and I feel so lucky to be associated with these great artists. First off is drummer Junjun Regalado, the multi-talented son of legendary session drummer Jun Regalado. When I entered the Band, he filed a leave of absence; he was inactive during the first trimester in order to concentrate on his academics. Senior members used to tell me stories about Junjun and how great he is, and I thought about what huge shoes for us other drummers to fill while Junjun wasn’t around! We were four drummers that year – Junjun, Ella, Comm. Arts student Jolly Feliciano, and I. Though Junjun was on leave, he would hang out at the Band Room every once in a while, often seen and heard practicing. Normally, he would program a click track on the keyboard and play along with it. There were times when he would program Toto’s “Georgy Porgy”, and then he would play along with it, and sing it – with a microphone mounted on a music stand, next to his face! I’m a big fan of Junjun. Whenever he’s playing the drums, practicing or during performance, I would always be somewhere behind him or next to the kit, keeping a close eye and ear on him, trying to pick up and steal his licks. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have learned how to play the shuffle properly. I consider Junjun as a huge influence.

There were plenty of keyboardists that year. There were Vivien Briones, Ruth Ann Reporen and Jenny Ong, who were excellent sight readers; Francis Bautista, who was graduating that time, and fellow freshman Ryan Almario, who had a very short stint with the Band. For me, the ones who had a significant impact were prodigy Junjun Del Rosario (Downtown, Ascension) who can play almost anything, from classical to contemporary; Henry Abesamis, who used to play with bands like Escape and Skin, and is currently with Shamrock; and my former bandmate, the all-around go-to guy Anthony Mercado (7th Soul). On bass, there’s Dohndi Santos (Sanctuary, Musik Jive, etc.) and Fiel Endaya. Dohndi and I were both from LSGH, we’re both rockers, we’re into Dream Theater, and we both had this huge crush on the same girl haha, that’s why we became good buddies. He’s unstoppable together with his partner in crime, the crazy, flamboyant and multi-talented sax player Pen Mulingbayan. And on guitars were sophomore Barbie Almalbis, my blockmate Mark Casquero, and Raymond “Rann” Golamco (Mojofly, Drip). Mark is awesome on both electric and acoustic guitars. His “Man in the Mirror” interpretation is a hit. Barbie was a fellow new member, and back then, I’ve never seen a girl rock that hard on the electric guitar. She’s the coolest rocker chick I’ve ever met, and she was instant heartthrob material in the Band! I’ve never seen a girl play “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” and other rock anthems with such style and enthusiasm. That year, the Band had the All-Female Band, which played on some campus events and concert intermissions, and Barbie was often the frontwoman, covering Alanis Morrisette tunes. Barbie was only active for one trimester. That time, she was building up the Hungry Young Poets, which was the beginning of her now-fruitful music career.

Regarding Rann Golamco, that time, he was playing for Jett Pangan and Escape. I owe my career to Rann. He is the one person who somehow pushed me into becoming a better musician, then later on priming me into the professional scene. He also referred me to auditions for the drummer’s seat of artists such as Jett Pangan and Kulay, which I humbly failed, yet it was an exposure and a learning experience. Each rhythm section peer has influenced me in many ways. But it was Rann who pushed and challenged me. He made me listen to recordings that were new to my ears back in the day. He introduced me to plenty of contemporary artists. He is the guy who thought me how to play “The Chicken”, which is a staple on rhythm section jams. He made me listen to Toto's instrumental track “Dave’s Gone Skiing”, which I took as a challenge, then played it with the rhythm section at the intermission of the major concert that year. I am forever grateful to Rann for somehow showing me the stepping stones.

The rhythm section's lineage includes some of the "who's who" in the local music scene. Some of these notable artists are: Vic Icasas (keyboardist & musical arranger, Hit Productions); Andy Pinto (drummer, Passage); Mark Escueta (drummer, Rivermaya), Pierre Monserrate (drummer, Orient Pearl; and Ella's kuya); Neil Mison (bassist, Escape); and Overtone members Frank De Castro, Jay Padua & Norby David. (Note: I know there are plenty more; I'll just add them to this list if ever.)

I have plenty of memories inside the Band Room, and many of these were the impromptu jams I had with the rhythm section. Like what I mentioned, I was reckless in my freshman year, and I felt like I was going to school for the Band rather than my academics! After class or whenever it’s my breaktime, I would often rush, sometimes even running, towards the Band Room. I knew that there’s always somebody there whom I can jam with. And those jams were bonding times with anybody who was there. We would usually jam “Chicken”, Toto songs, and some of our favorite rock songs or goof around with our crazy renditions of rock songs. Our most infamous jam is the U2-Rivermaya impromptu medley with Pen and Dohndi. At times, vocalists would sing along with us and it would be like a karaoke session for them. They would request a song for them to sing, and then we’ll play it. There were times when we just stretch out with our instrumental jams. Even Sir Eli would take out his trumpet to play “Feels So Good” with us. There were so many special jam moments. If only the walls of the Band Room could talk and recall those jams, or if only there was a recorder somewhere. For me, this was significant music education.

To be continued...